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State v. Jones

Supreme Court of North Carolina

March 7, 2014

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
ERIC STEVEN JONES and JERRY ALVIN WHITE

Heard in the Supreme Court May 8, 2013.

Roy Cooper, Attorney General, by Kimberly N. Callahan and Joseph L. Hyde, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State-appellant/appellee.

Staples S. Hughes, Appellate Defender, by Andrew DeSimone, Assistant Appellate Defender, for defendant-appellee/appellant Eric Steven Jones.

C. Scott Holmes for defendant-appellee Jerry Alvin White.

JACKSON, Justice. Justice MARTIN concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice NEWBY joins in this opinion. Justice HUDSON concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice BEASLEY joins in this opinion.

OPINION

Page 346

JACKSON, Justice.

Appeal pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-30(2) from the decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, __ N.C.App. __, 734 S.E.2d 617 (2012), finding no error in a judgment and orders entered on 7 September 2011 by Judge Robert C. Ervin in Superior Court, Mecklenburg County. On 24 January 2013, the Supreme Court allowed petitions by

Page 347

the State and defendant Jones for discretionary review of additional issues. Heard in the Supreme Court on 8 May 2013 by special session in the Old Chowan County Courthouse (1767) in the Town of Edenton pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-10(a).

In this appeal we consider whether the trial court properly denied defendant Eric Steven Jones's motion to dismiss the charge of identity theft, and whether the trial court properly dismissed indictments charging Jones with obtaining property by false pretenses and defendant Jerry Alvin White with trafficking in stolen identities. We conclude that the State presented sufficient evidence to support the jury's determination that Jones possessed the specific intent to commit identity theft. We further conclude that the indictments against Jones and White were insufficient to support the resulting convictions against Jones for obtaining property by false pretenses and against White for trafficking in stolen identities. Accordingly, the decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

In the early morning hours of 2 June 2010, Officer Steven Maloney of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department initiated a traffic stop of a silver Hyundai Accent that was a suspect vehicle in a financial transaction card theft case. Jones, the driver, was unable to produce a driver's license or vehicle registration card. During a consensual search of the vehicle, Officer Maloney found a Maaco work order listing James Coleman as the customer and two bags of marijuana. Officer Maloney placed Jones under arrest and conducted a search incident to the arrest. In Jones's wallet, Officer Maloney found, inter alia, pieces of paper with the names, addresses, and credit card information of John Rini, James Payton, Sean Daly, and Charles Batchelor.

Subsequent police investigation revealed that each of these individuals had stayed at The Blake Hotel in Charlotte in May 2010. Each man had been checked into the hotel by White and had provided a credit card to him for payment. White confessed that he had written down the names, addresses, and credit card numbers of Payton, Daly, and Batchelor, and had provided this information to another individual; however, White denied recording Rini's information. On various dates in May 2010, unauthorized charges were made on Rini's, Payton's, and Batchelor's credit cards.

Further investigation revealed that on 18 May 2010, an unauthorized purchase was made with Melanie Wright's credit card for the installation of four new tires and rims, an alignment, wiper blades, and brake services for a Hyundai Accent with the same vehicle identification number as the car Jones was driving when arrested. The work order was made under the name " Payton James" or " James Payton," and the credit card receipt was signed with the name " James Payton." On 28 May 2010, Jones paid for paint materials and service, body supplies and labor, and " sublet/towing" of the Hyundai Accent by Maaco with Mary Berry's credit card. This work order was made under the name " James Coleman" and Jones signed the credit card receipt as " Coleman J."

On 7 September 2010, the grand jury returned true bills of indictment charging Jones with four counts of trafficking in stolen identities, two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses, and one count of identity theft. The grand jury indicted White for four counts of trafficking in stolen identities. Jones and White were tried jointly during the 29 August 2011 criminal session of Superior Court in Mecklenburg County. At the close of the State's evidence, defendants moved to dismiss all charges on two grounds: (1) that the indictments were fatally flawed; and (2) that the State's evidence was insufficient. The trial court denied defendants' motions as to insufficiency of the evidence, but deferred ruling on the motions based

Page 348

upon the indictments. Defendants did not present any evidence, and both renewed their motions to dismiss at the close of the evidence.

The jury found Jones not guilty of trafficking in stolen identities but guilty of two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses and one count of identity theft. The jury found White guilty of all four counts of trafficking in stolen identities. The trial court denied Jones's motion to dismiss the charge of identity theft. The trial court then dismissed the charges against Jones for obtaining property by false pretenses and all charges against White for trafficking in stolen identities on the basis that the indictments were " insufficient as a matter of law."

Jones appealed his conviction for identity theft to the Court of Appeals, arguing, inter alia, that the State failed to prove that he possessed the specific intent necessary to be convicted of identity theft. State v. Jones, __ N.C.App. __, __, 734 S.E.2d 617, 621 (2012). The State appealed the dismissals of the charges against Jones for obtaining property by false pretenses and against White for trafficking in stolen identities. Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 621.

The Court of Appeals found no error in the trial court's denial of Jones's motion to dismiss the charge of identity theft. Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 622. The court noted that identity theft occurs when a person " 'knowingly obtains, possesses, or uses identifying information of another person, living or dead, with the intent to fraudulently represent that the person is the other person for the purposes of making financial or credit transactions in the other person's name.' " Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 621 (quoting N.C.G.S. § 14-113.20(a) (2011) (emphasis added)). The court further observed that fraudulent intent may be established " based upon a defendant's conduct or actions." Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 621. The court determined that evidence that Jones used the credit card numbers to make purchases and payments on his own behalf when he was not the cardholder or an authorized user was sufficient to raise a reasonable inference of misrepresentation. Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 622. The court stated, " [W]hen one presents a credit card or credit card number as payment, he is representing himself to be the cardholder or an authorized user thereof. . . . No verbal statement of one's identity is required, nor can the mere stating of a name different from that of the cardholder negate the inference of misrepresentation." Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 622. Therefore, the Court of Appeals concluded that there was sufficient evidence of Jones's intent to commit identity theft and that the trial court properly denied Jones's motion to dismiss the identity theft charge. Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 622.

The Court of Appeals also found no error in the trial court's dismissal of the charges against Jones for obtaining property by false pretenses. Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 626. The court stated that in charging the crime of obtaining property by false pretenses, " 'it is the general rule that the thing obtained . . . must be described with reasonable certainty, and by the name or term usually employed to describe it.' " Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 627 (quoting State v. Ledwell, 171 N.C.App. 314, 317, 614 S.E.2d 562, 565 (2005) (alteration in original)). Citing examples of insufficient descriptions, the court concluded that alleging that Jones obtained " services" from Tire Kingdom and Maaco, " without even the most general description of the services or their monetary value," was " plainly insufficient" to sustain the charges. Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 627.

The Court of Appeals was divided on the dismissal of the charges against White for trafficking in stolen identities. Relying upon a long line of cases involving illegal trafficking in various substances, the majority below stated that " 'it is necessary . . . to allege in the bill of indictment the name of the person to whom the [transfer] was made or that his name is unknown, unless some statute eliminates that requirement.' " Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 627 (second alteration in original) (quoting State v. Bissette, 250 N.C. 514, 517, 108 S.E.2d 858, 861 (1959)). Finding no language in either section 14-113.20 or section 14-113.20A of the North Carolina General Statutes eliminating the common law requirement, the majority concluded that the trial court properly dismissed the indictments

Page 349

for failure to name the recipient of the identifying information or to state that the recipient's name was unknown. Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 628. The majority stated that naming the recipient was " particularly crucial to avoid the risk of double jeopardy" in cases involving trafficking in stolen identities because identifying information theoretically " can be trafficked an infinite number of times to an infinite number of recipients." Id. at __, 734 S.E.2d at 628. Therefore, in order to give a defendant sufficient notice of the incidence of trafficking for which he must present a defense, the majority held that ...


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